All posts by Mr Hari Covert

I am a passionate foodie, former chef and also ex hotel & restaurant inspector. I have been immersed in food for over forty years so its been a lifetimes work...

Is Brexit to blame?

Oooo getting all political here but there was recently a great deal of press surrounding “Jamies Italian” closing a number of its restaurants brexit-1that basically were under performing and the reason given was the “Brexit Effect”

One said establishment is local to me in central Tunbridge Wells. Now I have to say I have not eaten at this said establishment but looking at the local reviews and Tripadvisor feedback there seems to have been some local animosity to this place and generally negative feedback and when it was announced many said “no sad loss”

A touch harsh but what intrigued me was the reasons given by Jamie Oliver himself was “the Brexit vote” There has been much press recently about how the uncertainty of labour movement will effect the hospitality industry and an already struggling industry with regards to staffing will therefore suffer even more.

I know of one hotel close by to me that is fundamentally staffed totally in the kitchen by a plethora of foreign labour (EU and beyond) another local pub to me has possibly 50% of its brigade as ex prison offenders (a very noble gesture by the employer but perhaps out of more necessity as recruitment is so hard)

The biggest issue the hospitality industry faces today  operationally is staffing… I was recently at a meeting at one of the UK’s leading Hospitality Schools and was staggered to learn that their intake of new students in particular for post graduate programmes was dominated by international students and on their undergraduate programmes a pretty high proportion come from within the European Union… another likely pressure post Brexit on our labour pool.

The hospitality industry fails to attract youngsters committed to a career in it. It’s often seen as unsociable and poorly paid. In fact  I have been involved in the past with several school career fairs and been so frustrated by the lack of understanding of both schools and parents as to what the hospitality industry actually involves.

As the UK’s 4th largest hospindustry it is about time people wake up to what it can offer in employment not just in the UK but globally and more importantly the effect that our lurching towards an even more insular and inward looking approach will impact their future.

Jamie’s comments for me are not without foundation, someone like him with such a global profile to be concerned by the “Brexit Effect” needs to be thought about more deeply.

hosp2Why is it when I eat out the staff that serve me or cook for me are more often than not from overseas and display far more passion for the job they do than their British counterparts?

I fear the future post Brexit does look a shade bleak, I am however optimistic that passion will surface and ever the optimist the future will be brighter…  so what do you think?

 

Farmers Markets… are they worth the money?

photo (177)Now I am always keen to feature top notch local produce at my dinners. I love a good market and relish wandering around trying to find some new inspiration or quirky new product that I have not come across before.

I do however ask the question have the “Farmers Market” had their day?

My biggest gripe is that often a stall holder is not first and foremost a particularly good sales person or customer focused. I have seen too many hide behind their stall looking at their phone seeming totally disinterested and non-engaging with their customers…

Harsh you may think but something I feel is ripe for a discussion /poll.

I often feel there are some stalls that seem to think that their chosen product is worthy of grossly inflated prices and substandard production. I have seen many a cupcake or even a loaf of bread look like an abomination of baking prowess at an eye watering price that even a supermarket would be hard pushed to justify.

Fish that pongs or not looking its best and a dirt encrusted vegetable that makes out it is better because of it…

Thenphoto (17) there is the snobby customer who also makes out they are more than righteous for supporting the market and are a dedicated foodie because they do so!

Well I for one will happily support a Farmers Market but I have to say the stall holder has to up their game to get me to part with my hard earned cash and have a product worthy of it.

Good imaginative food is worth it but alas a lot of it is not… what says you?

All loved up…

hearts1Well that date is fast approaching when couples habitually inhabit those tables of two’s in a restaurant and look lovingly into each other’s eyes across the dinner table!

You can tell I am a fan of this night of romantic love big time – Not!

It is generally hype to fill perhaps a quiet week night (a Tuesday this year) and dreaded by restaurants when it falls on a weekend night as they fill up in under capacity!

I have such strong memories of a “Valentine Night” in a restaurant I was working in when a couple came in for dinner who had obviously had a row and I think the guy was there under duress.

They ordered two” well done” fillet steaks and requested they be served with peas (we were upmarket and served a medley of vegetables)

confusciusI sent the waitress back with the message “Old Chinese Philosopher Confucius says Man who eats “Meat and Peas” on same plate is very unhygienic”

The waitress thought for moment and then giggled and said I can’t tell them that… I said please try!

Some restaurants get all creative with overpriced pun induced menus using not in season produce – e.g. Asparagus, Strawberries etc or pink coloured foods! I even tried one year doing a Valentine themed dinner here for my Supperclub and found it a tortuous night so vowed never again!

cooking2I am much more in favour of seeing you all cooking something special at home and perhaps pushing the boat out with a meal lovingly prepared for a loved one. It makes much more a statement than splashing out on a substandard meal in a restaurant.

So this would be my suggestion on a good seasonal menu

Ceviche of Smoked Haddock with a Celeriac Remoulade

****

Chicken Bhuna (cooked in a Slow Cooker)

****

Tangy Lemon Posset

with homemade Shortbread Biscuits

cookingYou will note I have provided links for all the recipes so why not give it a go and impress a loved one and cook them up this special treat… it will not break the bank and I am sure it will impress the other half!

Failing that why not come along later in the month for our February dinner event that we are calling “Game On as we will be featuring assorted Game dishes from Venison to Guinea Fowl.  You can book the dinners here on our dedicated ticketing site!

Alternatively if you what to learn how to prepare these or any other dishes there is always the Covert Cook School where we can help you build your confidence and assist those untapped wooing skills…

Far better than going out with all those other sad ones!!!

It’s official we are Quirky!!!…

qkWe were surprised and rather chuffed recently when we had an email from a newly established web site called QuirkyKent. The site is the brainchild of a former military person who we will call “QK”. (As like us they wish to remain covert for the time being!)

It is basically a labour of love and has taken a fair bit of time just to research and set up. “QK” tells me it is also a work in progress as they are currently working on a revamp and ensure the site works as well on mobile phones and tablets.

Since its launch in just a few weeks it seems to have had in excess of 5000 visitors and is increasing rapidly but it is the content that is what makes this site rather fascinating and for me it seems like a lifetime of trying to be “Quirky” is finally being recognised.

The site has assorted sections e.g. Quirky Dates & Adventures everything from the Panic Room in Gravesend – my daughter has been several times and absolutely loves it to what “QK” informs me is a real bargain from Lydd Aero Club where you can take a private plane with pilot and two friends (Subject to weight restrictions) and have a half hour flight from as little as just a tad over £30 per person depending on time of year and who your pilot is!!!

There is also a section on Quirky Accommodation that has everything from sleeping on Safari at Port Lympne Zoo to a Romantic Tree House at Blean complete with Hot Tub!

We sit in the section Quirky Bars & Eating Out, I love the idea of Playopolis Cafe in Rochester where you can choose from over 500 different board games to a bang on trend converted shipping container Spitfire Cafe located in Hythe where there is a very personal collection of WW1 & WW2 memorabilia.

Speaking at length to “QK” they have some great plans for the site but are keen to only highlight  the very quirkiest of places within the county… we are proud as punch to be featured and we are keen to develop a further relationship with them and look forward to qk2actually meeting with them and perhaps even hosting a totally exclusive “Quirky Event” with perhaps some rather “quirky food” so watch this space… do head over to their site and explore a little further as we aim to do just that as well!

www.quirkykent.co.uk

 

Toast can kill you…

Now that is not a headline I expected to wake up to and when I saw the BBC news site headline that toast & potatoes are a “potential cancer risk” – this was yet another piece of sensational journalism letting us know that our food had yet another risk. toast

There is hardly a day that goes by that we are not bombarded with another health scare related to our food. I take them all with a pinch of salt (now that is something else we are supposed not to consume!)

In fact salt is something I wish more people would use as under-seasoned food is something that winds me up no end as salt enhances a foods natural flavour and lack of seasoning in cooking results in bland unappealing food.salt

We seem to be constantly under attack not to “eat this” or “drink that”… I have adopted the policy if I enjoy something I will eat it and get the pleasure I seek but I am cautious to eat in moderation where I can.

I do however have very fond memories of consuming a whole “salt cured” fresh foie gras with a delightful bottle of vintage Krug champagne with a long time friend in a back street restaurant in Toulouse over 40 years ago… I still lived to tell the tale!

toast2
Toast as art… whatever next…

So I wonder what will be the next food scare – I know for sure it will not be something I will loose too much sleep over…Life needs those pleasures and food delivers on so many fronts – I reckon you are more likely to die from choking on a piece of toast if you ask me… Bon Appetite!

Game On… our February Menu

So it has been six years since our last “Game On” dinner when we dedicated the menu to a “Game” themed one.

We felt it was long overdue as winter months are a perfect time to enjoy this much forgotten and often not appreciated culinary treat. So this months menu will feature heavily three types of game.

We will kick the meal off with a Carpaccio of Venison, this is thinly sliced slivers of raw venison loin that we will marry to slices of pickled beetroot and some walnuts all dressed with a horseradish cream.

Next we will serve up a classic risotto that will have the addition of creamed sweetcorn that will then be topped with slivers of roasted wood pigeon breasts and roasted baby corn.  I am drooling just thinking of this!

The main course will be a breast of Guinea Fowl that will be studded with a force-meat of the legs mixed with Prunes. The breast will then be roasted off and served on top of a potato rosti and garnished with a red wine & prune sauce and some wilted spring onions. Then of course green beans will also feature.

To complete the meal we will then serve up a warm bread and butter pudding laced with chocolate and orange marmalade. We will keep it simple by serving it with some pouring cream – just a few extra calories.

Dates: Friday 24th  & Saturday 25th February 2017

Venue: Hari’s Secret Location

Time: 7:30pm Welcome 8:00pm Dinner Served

Suggested Donation: £40 per person (service not included)

Menu

Welcome drink and seasonal nibbles

🌽 🌽 🌽 

Venison & Beetroot Carpaccio

🍽 🍽 🍽 

Roasted Wood Pigeon & Sweet Corn Risotto

🌽 🌽 🌽 

Breast of Guinea Fowl, Prune & Spring Onion

Haricots Vert

Potato Rosti

🍽 🍽 🍽 

Chocolate & Marmalade Bread & Butter Pudding

🌽 🌽 🌽 

Coffee, Tea & Petit Fours 

Menu Subject to Market Purchases & Ingredient Availability 

To book your places please click here

Design – don’t you just love it…?

Well for this post I am going slightly “off piste” as they say…

p04lfbv7I recently stumbled across a programme currently airing on BBC2 called “The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes” fronted by actress Caroline Quentin (I have loved her comedic style) and award winning architect Piers Taylor.

I have to say if I had not followed the hospitality route in my career I think I could have possibly gone the route of being an architect. I have enormous respect for this profession as I believe well designed homes offer us something so amazing to live in and can also transform our lives.

The series is looking at homes around world that are designed in Mountains, Forests, Coastal or Underground environments – I cannot wait for the final episode!!!

Firstly the chemistry between Piers the architect and Caroline is so infectious. He is something of a purist whilst she looks for the more practical side of how the home will function as a home.

I have watched the first two episodes on catch up and cannot recommend them more highly as the ingenuity of the architects is amazing. The mountain top property in California that uses disused 747 plane wings as the basis of the roof is inspired and then the mountain top cabin on top of a Swiss mountain that can only be reached by cable car were great examples of clever design with their environment challenges.

In the Forest episode the two standout properties were both in the US in an area north of New York City (The Catskills) and have to be seen to be believed. Money seemed to be no object with one whilst the other one seemed to be an amazing family home in a much loved area, amazing.

It’s got me thinking of the similarities with the two professions of architect and chef. Both need to be aware of what works and combines well together and how combinations can influence and enhance the finished product. Well-designed delivers something memorable whilst over designed can frustrate.

Equally the presentation of a finished dish can provide something memorable but also the challenges of ruining the final look of the dish by over complication or sloppy presentation.

I love to sit, think and visualise (sometimes sketching) about how I will present a dish but always have a practical head on.

For me when plating food it should look good and invite you in to consume, embellishment is fine but needs to be relevant to the final dish. What annoys me most is that too much can only mean one thing that the dish gets cold or requires too many hands in its final presentation making it impractical to execute in a pressured environment. Many similarities to what is good architectural design.

Equally, I also like to think about the influence of colour and the plate or receptacle I am using will impact on the finished dish.

I know there is a website that bemoans the use of the more unusual website-logo-2017presentation of food – “We Want Plates”

If used correctly the more unusual can provide you with something memorable and I also firmly believe the humour can sell what can be a drab product. A topic for a future discussion perhaps!

The TV program has been inspiring and hugely entertaining, wonderful designed homes that are pleasing to the eye in some beautiful settings.

Not unlike well prepared food, presented in an imaginative way that eats well.

I am interested in what you all think, especially those of you in the design or architecture business!

Recipes – To share on not to share…

Following on from my last post about the Covert Cook School I felt I should continue the theme with a post about recipes.

I often get asked at our dinners “so how did you make this or that”… well I normally just ask them if I do not already have it for their email address and then I email them a link to my recipe store with a link for the recipe in question.

ppI have set up an account with an online app called “Pepperplate”. It is a very simple to use as it allows me to create a recipe upload a photo of the finished dish and then share either by email or social media.

It’s also compatible with my iPhone and iPad so no excuses. I currently have some 100 plus recipes stored at the moment and add one nearly every day! I can thoroughly recommend the app so do give it a go.

I have also recently joined a closed group on Facebook called Foodie Favourites that has been set up by a lady called Robbine Collie who I have known for a number of years. She heads up a company called Food at Work that does team building workshops with cookery at the centre plus she also runs cookery classes in North London via her brand Ufoodie. The idea however behind the Foodie Favouritesff facebook page has been as Robbine  states

“I started this group because people often ask me foodie advice and while I always have some kind of answer (useful or not), many of you have even better or different ideas and experiences and I thought it would be TOTALLY AMAZING if we can benefit from our COLLECTIVE recommendations on all things foodie – delicious ingredients, nifty kitchen gadgets, utensils and equipment, best foodie shops, great food related services such as cooking classes, caterers, food delivery services, ready meals services etc – basically a place to ask advice and share your favourite foodie information.”

In a very short space of time the group now boasts some 1000 plus members and it never ceases to amaze me how foodie questions are answered so quickly. I have discovered new foods and ideas on  a regular basis and have also seen some of my friends and followers actively taking part in the group with passion and delight to share their experiences. It just goes to prove how much of a leveller food can become. Long may this continue.

food-swapIt must be about time for another Tunbridge Wells “Food Swap” to be organised by Laura Goode ? Something else I have enjoyed in the past when a freshly made loaf of bread could be exchanged for a jar of homemade chutney or some other yummy food item…

In fact it is now so easy to get inspiration or ideas with the click of a mouse.  You can watch a 30 second video of how to make something or you can simply “google” a query about a product. I was so pleased recently when I spotted a post on someone looking to source a local Kent cheese made to ethical standards that I was able to share my knowledge about Winterdale Shaw following my own personal experiences.

It also amazed me when a totally random email landed in my inbox enquiring how to purchase Dorrbohnen (Dried Green Beans) in the UK. It gave me great pleasure to be able to assist this person keen to source them to be able to sell some of my limited stocks so they could cook them for their festive meal and then discover I could replenish my stocks direct via the Swiss Supermarkets German web site and get them couriered to the UK at considerably less cost than a return flight to Switzerland!

I just love it when I can share a new ingredient or something a bit more quirky. For example a new Vegetable recently to be found on kalettesthe supermarket shelf are Kalettes ( a cross between a Brussels
Sprout top and Kale)  Ikan Bilis is another such ingredient and thanks to my connection to Singapore. Six large bags of these salted and dried anchovies will now have to feature somewhere on my future menus…

So to answer my question to share or not what do you think? Your thoughts are welcomed!

Cooking with confidence…

cropped-covert-cook-school1.jpgWhen I initially set up as Hari Covert I never thought I would diversify the concept to then include my Covert Cook School offer.

I have always been one to willingly share a recipe or reveal how a dish is constructed etc.  So the Covert Cook School was only a natural progression. I have always loved the art of teaching and have done it on numerous occasions over the years.  I use to teach Asian inspired Fusion food at Ken Lo’s Cookery School and have fond memories of sharing the stage with my long term friend Kam Po But Noodles Butteaching my fellow Egon Ronay Inspectors classic Chinese dishes. Mr But’s Crispy Fried Shredded Beef became the bench mark for all like named dishes throughout the UK on our future inspection visits!

I have taught in Adult Education to absolute beginners and adolescent young ladies in a school environment. Each have been equally challenging and rewarding.

The young adolescent teenagers that get the benefit of my experiences are notable for their trepidation but also their amazement of the task they are made to execute.

This last year we got 18 of them to gut and fillet a freshly killed trout. The squeamish shrieks for me illustrated just how detached and desensitised to our food we have become. Then when I demonstrated and asked them to joint and bone a chicken for many I think the world had ended!

My Covert Cook School has over the past few years had a variety of students. A married couple keen to develop their repertoire, then a young fourteen year old lad from Singapore spent two weeks with us on a residential course designed especially for him. We helped develop his knife skills and introduced him to some of our fine local products as well as experienced a differing culture with a buying and eating trip to France. He recently paid a return visit along with his parents as he felt he had such a memorable time with us…

Just before Christmas we had an enquiry from a mum if we would be happy to take a seriously keen young twelve year old for one of our half day one to one cook school lessons. (It was to be a Xmas present for him)

Having now just met said young lad I was pleasantly surprised to see how keen he was and how well developed his palate is. Our lesson

Cauliflower Risotto
Cauliflower Risotto

now planned will incorporate some unusual combinations –e.g. Cauliflower Risotto with White Chocolate to the more basic but equally enlightening home baked Focaccia. His love of capers (a slightly unusual love for one of such tender years) has proved more challenging! (I do however think I have come up with something both palate challenging and different for him to sample on the day!)  He was both amused and amazed to learn they are the pickled seeds of the nasturtium flower.

So if you are an absolute beginner with little confidence or someone who has a real passion and desire to increase your repertoire we can tailor a class to suit you.

Mr HC with Chicken...
Mr HC with Chicken…

It can be on your own or with a partner/friend or even a small group (max of 4) where a demo can be followed by a lunch. We can also provide gift vouchers to use for a future lesson that make an ideal gift as well.

For more details just click this link and lets all get cooking with confidence!

What makes a good meal?

Well this is a bit of a deep question to kick the year off and it is some time since I have blogged a post so why not start this New Year with something deep and meaningful!

We were fortunate to have spent the Xmas period in warmer climes on the Canary island of Tenerife.  We have fond memories of previous holidays and even a honeymoon on the Island and we certainly were looking forward to revisiting some old haunts and eating some of our favourite foods on the island.

One dish famous throughout the islands is Canarian Chicken served with Salt Crusted new potatoes. The chicken (thighs & drumsticks) is fried in oil till crisp served with Green (Coriander) and Red (Red Pepper) Mojo Sauces and accompanied by new potatoes that are simply boiled in very salty water until they develop a really white salty crust… simple, honest, and inexpensive food.

Our favourite for this dish was a place called Otello either in the village of Adeje or their more accessible place called imaginatively Otello 2 at the beach area of Playa Fanabe.  Well, we felt on this occasion the beach place failed to live up to expectations and lacked something… the chicken was a little dry and overcooked. The Mojo Sauces were good but lacked freshness, bread was stale and overall when compared to Pago Pago in St Margarida Nr Rosas on main land Spain (See review here) was positively substandard by comparison for roughly the same price!

Another favourite in the past had been an Argentinian Steak House called Rodeo in the area known as Torviscas.

This place is mammoth in every aspect,  a room of gargantuan proportions with a central buffet area laden with assorted salads. Waiting staff dressed in baggy Gaucho style trouser costumes circulated the room with assorted skewered meats or trolleys laden with roasted meats.  The concept is you can eat as much as you want for a one off price!

We have seen locals and tourists tucking in till they are so green with over indulgence they have literally passed out! This time we felt the place had lost its charm and again also lacked the quality of previous visits.  Meat a main constituent of the experience was often chewy and lacking in flavour. In fact overall the place ended up being the most expensive of our visit to the island and failed to deliver value or memories to cherish that it once had.

So what does make a good meal, for me first of all the food has to be memorable, the setting and ambience matched to this as well as service that is both professional and slick all help to add to the experience.

Our last meal on the island was in the village of Los Abrigos just south of the airport in a specialist fish restaurant.(One of many in the village) Grilled Prawns from the griddle plate and some Razor Clams with sunny views across the harbour with a waiter providing attentive, friendly and slick service at a fair price was the perfect finish.

Eating out relies on many factors to make it memorable… the food, the service and the setting are all contributing factors to the memory and I certainly hope we manage to deliver on all fronts with our pop up events. We put a great deal of effort into delivering good tasty food, friendly service and a relaxing ambience for a fair price.

I myself have experienced many a meal that lacked each of these factors and felt very frustrated that they often get the basics wrong.

So with this in mind we kick our 2017 events off with a “January Sale” where we are asking diners to pay a minimum of just £10 per person for three courses of freshly cooked food.  The twist to this is we are asking guests to contribute more if they feel it has been worth it…

We filled out these meals within thirty six hours of opening bookings and have even added an extra session (also sold out)…  Delivering the expectation is a challenge and one we cherish.

We do hope you will come and see what we have to offer during 2017, our raison d’etre has always been good food, good service and good value – simple you may think… come and see for yourself…

Booking for February Events – Game On – opens 9:00am Friday 20th January

Now Booking for Covert on the Mountain – Crowborough Community Centre – Saturday March 25th